Opinion: The Threat Climate Change Poses To America’s Poor

Milwaukee, Wisconsin (TFC)– Each year, the effects of climate change become more apparent, destructive, and costly. Whereas some places are at greater risk, we all collectively face the future.In Milwaukee and other cities, that means ensuring poorer communities will survive changing weather patterns.

Although some may have forgotten, I personally recall the winter of 2013. It was so cold, the coldest in 35 years some sources boasted. Everything froze and, more than once, it seemed like the city itself might grind to a halt for a day and night. The National Weather Service, Fox 6 reported, determined Milwaukee’s 2013 December to be 5.5 degrees Fahrenheit below normal. January 2014, the new year, was over 7 degrees below normal.

For me personally, despite the profound cold, 2013-13 was one of the last “normal” Milwaukee winters. The following year, 2014-15, brought odd weather across the United States. Whereas some regions experienced record warm, others enduring record chills. At least some blame for these patterns rests in Typhoon Nuri which, according to meteorological sources, was caused record setting storms at sea. The consequences of Typhoon Nuri’s wrath went onto sway records of all sorts across America.

In February 2014, springtime was welcomed with a record low of 21 degrees below zero. According to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, that broke the previously set record by four degrees. Whereas southern Wisconsin experienced drier than normal weather, the north east was unusually wet.

I recall walking to school during my senior year of high school that year slipping on ice frozen from fresh rain. That’s right, not snow, but rain in the middle of a damningly cold winter. That same winter also produced 28 straight days of below freezing weather, tying a record set nearly 100 years.

The dreaded winter of 2013-14 froze five known people to death, mostly the homeless. And while the following year didn’t match the body count, lack of shelter and housing is ever pressing. As winters get colder, the homeless, elderly, and poor will be more at risk.

That especially goes for communities which may not enjoy regular city services, such as snow plows and salting. Milwaukee’s 2014-15 winter’s cold seemed to even carry into the summer. Before retreating, however, the frigid landscape claimed the lives of at least two men. Others died while shoveling snow, mostly the elderly.

Nearby Chicago, Illinois also experienced one of its coldest winters on record. I remember ranting to friends about how 2013-14’s winter was the coldest in years, and 2014-15 was even colder than that. Few seemed to understand the gravity of that though, or just didn’t care. Then reports of people literally freezing to death began floating about in the news. At least two were elderly people, one in an unheated home and another with a history of homelessness.

The summer of 2015 brought cooler, drier weather than normal. And then came September, which was noted as unusually warm. December continued the trend, breaking Milwaukee’s record as the warmest, wettest winter yet. What snow did fall also broke a record burying the city, airport, and everything else.

Going into 2016, summer months brought boiling heat punctuated by civil tensions in Milwaukee, and elsewhere. Two heat-related deaths were reported by the medical examiner’s office, one with an interesting twist.

According to reports, that person attempted to quit heroin days before dying and was confined to a bed. Without eating, or drinking, the flu-like symptoms of withdrawal spiked 60 year old Tony Raybon’s temperature. His body simply couldn’t withstand heat withdrawals and blistering summer. With Milwaukee County in an opioid crisis, how many other users face similar dangers of hotter summers?

Finally, 2016’s winter brought more weather-related deaths for local media to skim. One woman froze to death, and others froze while shoveling snow. Nationally, weather trends only continue to intensify the challenging extremes of nature. During 2016’s summer, independent media outlets such as The Young Turks covered a full year of record breaking temperatures. It’s not likely that the trend will cease, and in fact may only worsen still.

In some regions, that may manifest in more droughts, hotter summers, colder winters, or even a lack of a recognizable spring or fall. At times, the winter of 2016 in Milwaukee–despite the cold–was barely recognizable as a winter. It’s a fact of observation that even my grandmother expressed one evening while staring out her kitchen window. “It’s never been like this before”, she told me, “it’s like you can even tell the seasons apart anymore.”

Climate change has always been a controversial subject in America, more so than other countries. And under the Trump regime, it’s a topic now being actively whitewashed and ignored by the government. Internationally though, it’s not just western countries are at the table with poorer, less developed countries. The latter has no choice, as record flooding, drought, and other weather patterns already pose great threats. Due to an inherent lack of economic resources, locals are organizing solutions rather than the government.

Perhaps this is the direction American cities experiencing damaging weather must take to prepare for the future. If the federal government refuses to do anything, then local collectives must step in. For Milwaukee, and other cities, that means ensuring lower income communities aren’t drastically affected.

Image Source – Pixabay

Many of the heat and cold-related deaths over the past couple years were people in poorer area’s of the city. Though most were the elderly, some trended lower to even their 40’s. The life of 60 year old Tony Raybon was claimed by record summer heat, and drug withdrawal. Symptoms not just confined to Raybon, but any user in that summer attempting to quit.

Other cases involved people who didn’t have indoor heating, air conditioning, and other’s indicating a lack of resources. According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel piece, one in five heat-related deaths are likely influenced by neglect. Whether it’s neglect of that individual person, or their city, the consequences are the same.

In Canada, officials are viewing climate change and weather phenomena as a public health crisis. Whether it’s a comfortable thought for you or not, intensifying weather patterns pose a host of dangers to human life. Not only do they directly cause harm or death, but food production and city facilities are vulnerable to the changing climate.

All of this spells disaster for Milwaukee’s homeless and poor, unless preparations are made. It’s a dilemma stretching beyond the familiar challenges of adequate housing and city services. Quite literally, it’s an issue touching all manner of public life. Ignoring it will only expound the damage, and loss of life and security.